Today is the feast day of Saint Frances of Rome.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Frances, an excellent model of all virtues for women in every condition of life, was born at Rome, in the year 1384. Her parents, who were very rich, belonged to the highest nobility. In her very infancy, Frances was noted for’her modesty. She never allowed herself to be either gazed upon or touched immodestly, but offered resistance by cries and tears. Retirement and prayer were the delight of the child, and as such she began to practice slight penances and mortifications, which she knew how to conceal from the eyes of her parents. At the age of eleven her sole aspiration was to enter a convent and become a spouse of Jesus Christ, by consecrating to Him her virginity. Her parents, however, opposed this wish and gave her in marriage, when she was twelve years old, to Laurentius Pontianus, an excellent young Roman noble. With him she lived in the greatest union and love, so that, during the forty years of her wedded life, not the slightest misunderstanding, much less quarrel or estrangement, occurred. She took upon herself the education of the children whom God entrusted to her. Her first care was to ground the fear and love of God so deeply in their tender hearts, that the children found their greatest happiness in following the lessons received from their holy mother. The assurance from on high of the salvation of her son, who died when nine years old, consoled St. Frances; for he appeared to his little’sister, who was lying ill, and invited her to heaven.
She presided over her household with the greatest vigilance. She prescribed to her servants hours for prayer, for attending the offices of the Church, and for work. In the evening, she assembled them all and recited night prayers with them and read a pious book to them. When her servants were sick, she did not allow them to be taken to the hospitals, but nursed them at home, saying: “We go to the hospitals to wait upon strangers; why should we not exercise the same charity to those of our household?” After her marriage she no more frequented the public plays, banquets, or other worldly amusements. Her friends were displeased at this, and represented her youth and her position as requiring her to attend these public displays. But she replied: “It is true I am young and belong to a noble family, but I am a Christian and must follow the maxims of the Gospel.” She was very simple in her dress, and in later years, with her husband’s permission, laid aside all gold and silver ornaments and jewels, and wore only woollen garments. In her palace there was no picture which could offend the most sensitive eye, but only such as excited to devotion.
She allowed no profane or superstitious book or novel to be in the hands of her domestics. The time she could spare from her family duties she consecrated to prayer or deeds of charity. The life of abnegation which she had begun when a child was greatly increased in her married state. In a word, her life was most holy and edifying, and many noble matrons followed her example.
God, in order to try the virtue of Frances, permitted Ladislaus, King of Naples, to capture the city of Rome. Her husband’s palace was pillaged, himself robbed of everything, taken prisoner, and sent into banishment. There was none who did not grieve at the misfortune which had befallen Frances; she alone displayed Christian patience, returning thanks to God for this trial. When she was informed of the confiscation of her property and the banishment of her husband, she exclaimed, with holy Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job i.). After a short time her property was restored, and her husband recalled from exile. In acknowledgment of this favor, she strove to lead a more perfect life, and induced her husband to follow her example. Henceforth, they lived together as brother and sister, employing their time in prayer and works of mercy and penance. Frances took but one meal a day and replaced the linen she was wont to wear by a hair cloth, girded herself with an iron chain, and slept only two hours, either on a straw bed or a plaited coverlet. She punished her smallest faults by severe scourgings and other austerities. Her long and rigid fasts so weakened her stomach as to cause her continual sufferings; still she did not abandon the practice of fasting. Her treatment of her neighbor was entirely different. She frequently visited the hospitals and charitable institutions, bringing alms to the poor, preparing food for the needy, arranging their beds and rooms; in a word, performing the most menial services. It is known that she cleansed sores running with putrid matter, and sometimes, to overcome self, she swallowed some of the water tainted with this corruption.
After the death of her husband, she repaired to the house she had founded for those women, who, though not living under the monastic rules, still proposed leading a more perfect life. They were called Oblates, because they had offered themselves to the service of God. Frances, with a cord around her neck, cast herself at the feet of the superioress and begged to be received as a sinner among the Oblates, because she was resolved to lead a life of penance. The whole community received her as their founder, but Frances would not allow herself to be treated as such, but wished to be the humble servant of all. No task was too low for her: she embraced it with the greatest joy. In the course of time she was obliged to assume the post of superioress; nevertheless, she continued to discharge all the humblest duties. During the four years spent in this position she advanced wonderfully in perfection. She was then called to visit her brother, who was lying ill, and just as she prepared to return she was attacked by a violent fever. Our Lord appeared to her and foretold the day of her death, and invited her to join the Saints in heaven. Frances informed her confessor of this revelation, and begged for the last Sacraments, which she received with the sentiments of the most edifying piety. Her confessor, noticing that her lips were moving when the tongue refused to perform its function, inquired if she had any further request to make. She, with difficulty, answered: “I am reciting the office of the Blessed Virgin.” This had been a daily practice with her, even when a child. She expired during this prayer, at the age of fifty-six.
Frances had been favored, during her mortal career, with singular graces. Amongst others, the most remarkable one was to behold her guardian angel ever at her side. He guided and protected her on many occasions. He reproached her when she committed any fault, and withdrew his presence until she had repented and promised amendment. Once, when a useless conversation was carried on in her presence, which, out of human respect, she did not interrupt, her guardian angel gave her such a slap that it was heard by all present. On another occasion, when she could not prevent a sinful conversation, she saw the angel veiling his face to mark his hatred for sin. She was also frequently visited by the Mother of God and other Saints. Shortly after her marriage she fell sick, and some advised her to employ a superstitious remedy; but she would not accept it, saying: “I would sooner die than preserve my life by sinful means.” Hardly had she said this, when St. Alexius appeared to her and restored her to health. At another time she was just recovering from a dangerous illness, when the angel Raphael showed her the pains of the damned. This encouraged her to bear patiently all the sufferings and trials of this life. Our Divine Redeemer often appeared to her while she was meditating on His Passion, which was always attended by abundance of tears. Her refuge in all temptations and persecutions was the crucified Saviour and His blessed Mother. She confessed that her recourse to these was never without a new increase of strength and consolation. Limited as our space is, we must leave to others the history of the many favors bestowed on her by the Almighty, as well as of the numerous miracles wrought through her intercession. (2)
Her canonization was preceded by three processes (1440, 1443, 1451) and Paul V declared her a saint on 9 May, 1608, assigning 9 March as her feast day. Long before that, however, the faithful were wont to venerate her body in the church of Santa Maria Nuova in the Roman Forum, now known as the church of Santa Francesca Romana. (6)
Image: Saint Frances of Rome, artist: Antoniazzo Romano, circa 1468 (9).
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff